The Sudan-Israel deal is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Yes, today’s video spends a ton of time undermining it by adding context, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a surprising thing. Trump really has extended the realm of the possible, whether or not this particular deal is the malign flop I expect. There are a lot of people, like me, who find Trump’s various middle east deals outrageous and impracticable, but I don’t think there are many people in Israel or Palestine who think that the pre-Trump dynamic was leading anywhere useful either.
To me it’s obvious that Trump isn’t pushing things in particularly useful directions, but that doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t be pushed out of their current frame. As the region, and the US’s involvement with it moves forward, however, we need to have a better sense of the context in which we are operating, especially if we’re trying to break new ground. Context is what today’s video attempts to provide.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. The Sudan-Israel peace deal is incredible, and frankly quite surprising news. Whether it’s successful or not, the fact that it even exists undermines a lot of what I thought I knew about the Middle East. I am happy to admit that. But it’s important to emphasize that what we have here is a great opportunity but also a huge test for Israel. Because Sudan is the first Arab country to normalize relations that can be described as anything like a democracy.
Before we move forward, I think it’s important to issue a bigger mea culpa. I’ve spent a lot of time on twitter, and published a video laughing my ass off at the idea that any of Donald Trump’s Arab-Israeli peace deals were worth a damn. Bahrain and the UAE are tiny gulf micro-states where the population is either too brutalized or too bought off by their completely unaccountable leaders for me to see those deals as at all serious. That is not the case with Sudan. Sudan is a huge country that is in the middle of a democratic transition. Sudan’s Prime minister Abdallah Hamdok was not elected, but he was forced on Sudan’s military dictatorship by a truly inspiring protest movement. I honestly did not think this was possible, I was wrong, and I’d like to apologize for that. At what I believe to be the end of his time in office, Trump did actually manage a real accomplishment, and yes Joe, you were right about this, and I was wrong.
Now let’s talk about how this particular sausage was made. Hamdok did not do this willingly. Like at all. Sudan has been on the US’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993. Sudan’s dictator, Omar Al-Bashir harbored Osama Bin Laden for a bit and was an all around terrible guy. In April of 2019 the people of Sudan booted him out! But for the past year and a half the US government has dragged its feet on taking Sudan off the terror list, which involves all manner of financial and diplomatic obstacles that make the transition to democracy harder. So basically Trump got this Israel deal by blackmailing the folks who kicked out the terrorist. Well that’s politics.
This comes at a tremendously hopeful, but tremendously delicate time for Sudan. You see after Bashir was booted out in April of 2019, the generals who replaced him thought the protesters should go home, and leave the government to them. Sudan’s civil society disagreed, so the generals did some mass murder. But the protesters persisted heroically, and won their democratic transition. The July 2019 deal provides for government by a sovereignty council made up of a mix of military and civilian folks. The military is meant to be the more powerful element of the council until early 2021, when the civilian elements are supposed to take over in preparation for elections in the fall of 2022. That may sound complicated, but I assure you, the challenges facing Sudan right now are infinitely more complicated than what I’ve just described. I think this timeline may already be changing due to some new peace deals with rebel groups, but I’ve had trouble finding confirmation of that.
I have been meaning to do an in depth series on this extraordinary country for over a year now. Sudan has a horrific, and horrifically complex history. If the Sudanese can transcend that history and pull off their democratic transition it’s a tremendous victory for democracy, Sudan, Africa, the broader Islamic world and the whole damn human race. I really want to tell that story, I just have to read like five more books.
But I hope I’ve given a sense of the minefield that Trump has just thrust Israel into here. Israel’s prior deals have all been with countries that are nobody’s idea of democratic role models. Egypt was run by a nasty dictator back in 1979 and it’s run by a nasty dictator today. I think Egypt’s weird relationship with Israel does have something to do with this stagnation, and the spectacular failure of the country’s lone experiment with democracy in 2013. But the fact that Egypt has done nothing with the near billion dollars of US bribe money it gets every year is on Egypt, not Israel. Jordan is the nicest of a bad bunch, but it’s still run by a near absolute monarch, no matter how glamorous his wife is. The UAE is more a collection of mercantile city states than a country. It’s apparently a great place to party, but it’s also got slave labor, and its unaccountable monarchs have just spent five years pouring their wealth into slaughter in Yemen. Bahrain is like the UAE, except without the money, so the ruling family kills and represses its own people instead of those in a different country. The rulers of these countries were free to make deals with Israel without political consequences. If their people don’t like it, it’s not a problem. And there’s no democratic system to worry about preserving. That is not the case for Sudan.
Sudan’s democratic transition is already shaky. Trying to do this in a poor, multi-ethnic country with multiple armed separatist movements is challenging, and the chances of success are honestly not great. That’s why I have been prepping a series. My thinking is that if more people know about Sudan’s history, and this incredible thing they are trying to do, then maybe chances of success would be a little higher. This unpopular peace deal with Israel will not make the chances of success higher. And thanks to Trump, if Sudan’s democratic transition fails, Israel will now absolutely get the blame.
So this is Israel’s great test. Kings and Dictators across the Middle East and North Africa, and many thinkers in the developed world as well, have long maintained that Israel is an obstacle to wider democracy in the region. Israel’s new relationship with one of the world’s newest democracies will either confirm that thesis or demolish it. It is in the interest of the world, and now very much in Israel’s interest that the Sudanese Democratic experiment succeeds. IS ISRAELI INFLUENCE COMPATIBLE WITH ARAB DEMOCRACY? So how can Israel pass this test?
Man I have no fucking idea. I’ve been reading deeply about Sudan for like a year, and I feel like I understand less now than I did at the beginning. Israel trying to help Sudan is like the mother of all catch-22s. Any attempt to help will be seen as Imperialism. Any Sudanese politician, faction or business Israel embraces will probably be in physical danger. Oh also, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Israel’s likely partners here, definitely want the democratic transition to fail. The Israeli government is supposed to be filled with some really smart, capable people. Well good luck with this one folks!
So, to conclude I was wrong, and the Trump supporters were right. A peace deal with not just a large, but also a democratic leaning Arab country was possible. Peace is good. I sincerely wish Sudan and Israel the best of luck with it, but I am not super optimistic. I hope to be able to report positive things about this very surprising geopolitical development… after I read another five books or so.
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